HBO and Warner Bros. have a new streaming service called HBO Max, and one of their first original feature films is the middling, simplistic “An American Pickle” from Seth Rogen.
I’m as much of a Seth Rogen fan as the next person, and he’s definitely on the ball with “An American Pickle”. But this is a quiet little movie that can’t seem to settle on a theme. It’s not particularly funny, but it does have some solid moments of emotional drama. The movie really only works as a chance for Rogen to play a fun new character.
Beyond that bit of Rogen acting, there is little to nothing to recommend about “An American Pickle”.
Rogen plays two roles in “An American Pickle”. The first is Herschel Greenbaum, an Eastern European immigrant who falls into a vat of pickle brine in a factory in 1919 and pulls a Rip Van Winkle, waking up 100 years later in modern day Brooklyn. His only surviving relative is his great grandson, Ben Greenbaum, an app developer living in Brooklyn, who is also played by Rogen.
The two men must then work to make the Greenbaum name successful, whether together or opposed.
The only thing that makes “An American Pickle” worthwhile is Seth Rogen in both leading roles. He’s a movie star at this point, so acting is no challenge. His modern day “Ben” character is typical Rogen, but still possesses plenty of heart and relatability.
Herschel is a much more fun character, with his Eastern European accent and old timey mannerisms. It is entertaining to watch Herschel try to start his own pickle business in modern day Brooklyn. The two characters make a great onscreen team.
And modern movie-making magic makes it seamless for two Seth Rogens to share a screen together.
But beyond Rogen’s likability, I’m not sure what “An American Pickle” is trying to say. Sometimes it feels like a wacky comedy, sometime it feels like a satire and sometimes it settles into a movie about getting in touch with your roots. But none of those themes is consistent enough to define the film.
That is what “An American Pickle” lacks: definition. It doesn’t have anything particularly new or important to say. And it doesn’t deliver its message in a very memorable way. The movie is really just a chance for Seth Rogen to have some fun, and that’s going to have to be good enough.